The undervalued practicality of the arts

As Tufts’ Majors Week comes to an end, the looming decision of choosing a major is more stressful than ever. The decision is obviously not an easy one. With factors like future salaries, job markets and peer competition constantly weighing on our shoulders, many of us address the choice with a strategic sense of practicality: we choose majors that we believe will decorate our resumes with the most lucrative, applicable and marketable labels possible.

The issue with this practical approach, however, is that it has led many of us astray from valuing some of the most meaningful aspects of higher education. Instead of pursuing our passions and deepest intellectual interests, we go after what is most likely to get us hired. This outlook is far from unsolicited – it is a product of the times. As students, we are pre-professionals in a period of booming science and technology, where competitive high-paying, far-reaching, and ever-growing careers reside predominantly within a narrow cluster of fields: the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math).

With a vast number of students attempting to nudge their way into this sphere of money, prestige and modern relevance, many traditional four-year colleges have witnessed a shared consequential trend: the decline in humanities and arts majors. While one cannot deny that catering our knowledge and skill sets to fit modern industries can be both practical and profitable, we are nonetheless depriving ourselves of a whole other side of learning.

Subjects in the humanities emphasize wisdom, and most importantly, the greatest empathy. The arts expand our methods of thought, allow us to insert ourselves into the worlds of others and teach us compassion, reasoning as well as objective perception. To many, these educational advantages may seem like modern luxuries. Why pay six figures of tuition to broaden our perspectives when we can instead put it towards getting a job at Google? The future career benefits of the arts, however, are widely unrecognized and underappreciated. As former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said just last week at a talk at the University of Michigan, without an education in the humanities, students would not “develop the habits of mind, and frameworks for creative synthesis and lateral thinking that really make the very best leaders in the world.” The arts provide us with an invaluable set of skills that will contribute to our knowledge and success in fields ranging from Silicon Valley, Hollywood, Wall Street and beyond.

The key is balance. As the late Steve Jobs famously said, “technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.” In a world where science and technology are taking over, shifting our focus in these directions is undoubtedly important, but we must simultaneously make a calculated effort to preserve arts and humanities. So, to all undeclared students hesitantly waiting to fill out those dreaded major forms: keep the humanities in mind – your passion for the arts may be much more practical than you think.